Whitsundays to Magnetic Island, via Middle Island and Darley Reef

We had intended to snorkel before leaving Butterfly Bay but the morning was overcast and a bit chilly, so we packed up snorkelling gear, prepared for sea and headed off at about 8.30 am.

Pete got the fishing rod out until the zones prevented, but nothing seen. Pete was feeling like he had man flu, so I gave him a lemsip and a couple of echinacea and sent him down below. The breeze was light and abeam and we would get little advantage from sailing, so we motored along comfortably around 7 or 8 knots.

My first time this far north on any boat, once we passed double cone island, with Gloucester Island in all its glory standing out from easily 25 miles away. It would be with us all day! I passed my time on deck doing squats, trying to get my blog to upload (not successful), drafting the next instalment and checking out our planned anchorage. 100 Magic Miles didn’t seem enthusiastic about it for anything other than a lunch stop so we will have to see. We should be there early enough to select alternative options if need be.

We arrived about 2 in the afternoon, and it was absolutely beautiful. The breeze had come round to the north east and looked very settled at 8-10 knots. We launched the dinghy and headed into the beach for easy access to the snorkelling which was off the fringing reef. Again, the visibility was not fantastic, but Pete found a huge giant clam and I saw a ray as well as numerous fish. Back at the beach, we had the place completely to ourselves, it was lovely.

Returning to the boat, I prepared curry for dinner and we had delightful sundowners in the hammock chair. Much warmer on deck this evening than last evening and we could actually see stars starting to appear. The night bodes well and we agreed to stay.

What we didn’t know was that when the tide turns and starts to ebb, the wind generally turns south. So whilst the night started off comfortable enough, at around midnight, it became very uncomfortable and we had no shelter at all, being completely exposed to the south. When the anchor alarm went off, Pete woke and we headed on deck to check things out. Whilst the anchor was holding ok, the boat was pitching and rolling and I was getting no sleep. We had a crew meeting and decided that best course of action was to head up to Cape Upstart to arrive in the morning. Pete was happy to stay up while I tried to sleep and luckily I got about 2 hours over the whole 4 hours of transit, and I got up around sunrise. We were about 4 miles off our waypoint of Upstart.

As we rounded the Bun, we could see a few boats at anchor and headed in to the second anchorage recommended by Lucas. We dropped the anchor in about 6.5 meters and Pete went straight to sleep. I cleaned up the boat a bit and attempted some dinghy repairs and then also succumbed to more sleep. I caught the cold that Pete started at Butterfly, so dosed up on echinacea and Panadol to try to get it out of my system.

We woke at lunch time and had a coffee and decided to head in the beach to have a swim. As we are anchored in Shark Bay, neither of us is game to go in off the boat! It was quiet ashore despite there being a lot of private holiday places set back from the beach. We checked out the creek, full of sting rays, and swam off the beach. Then back to WDS to shower and pack up the dingy. I felt a million dollars after a shower and hair wash, and we also clipped the cats claws, as Noodle was getting stuck to things! A quick chat with the Pilgrims down at a Hammo lacking in wind, then decision on heading out to the reef tomorrow. Clare gave us the name of someone to call at Maggie who may be able to give us a bit of direction on which part of the reef to visit and possibly stay over. If we can’t stay over, we will probably head back here to Upstart.

Sundowners over a brilliant sunset set off by “smooks” as Cook would have said. Something on the western horizon was burning, which made for a spectacular sunset. We had dinner on deck, though passed on wine as we were both feeling worse for our colds. So it was a cup of tea for me then bed, leaving both cats keeping watch on deck. When I got up about midnight, Noodles was still up there, but she came down to join us shortly after.

Neither of us slept particularly well due to the blocked noses and general feeling of being under the weather, but we did have a good few hours. We got up around 6:30 and immediately departed to head out to the reef. We tested a new technique for weighing anchor after the debacle of the previous night, and this worked well. Then we were underway. The forecast was still favourable, thought there was a 50% chance of rain, but this was likely to be our last chance with a decent forecast only for today and tomorrow. There was also a possible evening thunderstorm, but there would be little we could do about that.

We had breakfast on the go, and Pete worked out that so far we had covered about 1200 nautical miles, including the racing we had done at Airlie. We had a whale and calf breaching as we left Cape Upstart, then 2 ships, then a lot of sea and sky. For a very long time. Two other boats in the distance…sea, Sky….that’s all. Pete lost his whole fishing line, having failed to hear it go, we heard it snap as the reel was left empty. We found some more line after turning the boat inside out, but it was light line. Pete decided to use it anyway or not fish at all. We lost the second and only other lure on this line!

After about 4 hours we started to see turquoise water indicating we were at the first of the reefs we would pass to get to Darley Reef. About an hour after this, we saw the next reef, showing turquoise amongst the dark blue of the deeper sea. Finally, we started to skirt the fist edge of Darley reef, around 1 as we had lunch. The scale of the reef was far beyond our expectations, and by the time we got to the area we thought we could look for a possible anchorage it was around 3 pm and the sun was beyond the best angle for spotting coral. Fish were jumping everywhere, taunting poor Pete.

We pushed on into the reef, using the high resolution plotter to help us try to pick the shallower sections we may be able to anchor, but we seemed to stay always in 30 plus meters of water, though all the charts indicated there should be less. Ideally we wanted to locate a sandy bottom, around 10 or less meters deep with enough swing room not to run into coral. The closest we came to finding this was almost running into the end of a long narrow bommie, but as I was on the bow spotting, I was able to call Pete into hard reverse to avoid catastrophe. After seeking shallow water for the best part of an hour and the sun starting to slide towards the west, we admitted we would not find an ideal anchorage out here, and exited the reef around 4 pm, deciding to head straight for Magnetic Island, about 70 miles away.

At this time, with the forecast we had, this was not such a daunting prospect, other than the cold was getting the better of me as the day drew on. I cooked dinner as we motored into the sunset, and we had a hearty pasta bolognaise as we made progress to our destination. Pete let me get some sleep from about 6, and I had some useful rest until I was on watch at 10. By this time we were sailing with a reasonable breeze pushing us along at about 6 knots, which would get us to Magnetic around 6 or 7 am, ideal for approach to a new anchorage.

By the end of my watch at midnight, the breeze had shifted 180 degrees, and into the south, but we were still sailing comfortably, and I went down gratefully to sleep. I was woken up by us heeling hard, and things starting to fly around the cabin. Not expecting strong winds, I had not been as vigilant about stowing items below and with the breeze up to 20 knots, we were hEaling hard. I got up and suggested reducing sail, and Pete said he was thinking about it. Then the rain started, I made him get into wet weather gear and by the time that had happened I decided to get into my gear too, to help with the change to the small jib.

Things were a bit easier with that accomplished, but Pete was reluctant to go down for his off watch. I turfed him in the end, arguing that we both had colds and both needed rest, and interrupting watches now would just mean one of us would be really dead when we needed to anchor. He went down finally,  and left me on probably the most miserable watch of the trip. Fortunately I had all my gear on and could huddle in the dodger and avoid the worst of the rain, but it rained almost continuously through to 4 am, plus there was almost nothing to look at except Red Rock light. No moon, stars, ships, fishos or anything. Finally just before 4, I spotted a white light and a flashing red that I could not identify from the chart. In consternation, I woke Pete just as his alarm went off, and he was able to identify an anchored ship and the red light on top of Mount Cook, Magnetic Island. Thankfully, I retired to my bunk and got some decent sleep. While I was sleeping Pete caught a fish – a 10 cm flying fish which jumped on to the boat!

When I woke at 6:30 am we were just rounding the headland into Horseshoe Bay. It was a delight to see flat sheltered water and to note that it had stopped raining! We headed in and dropped the anchor in about 6.5 meters, and sighed with relief to be here, knowing we could head to bed for some decent sleep. We did minimal tidying, had bacon and egg muffins, then slept until midday! A swim, followed by a shower made us feel better so then we decided to head in to the shore to see what was there. On recommendation from Paul, we went straight to Horseshoe Bay fish and chips for lunch, which was excellent. Then we had a look around the few shops, had a beer in the pub, bought a bag of ice and returned to the boat. A little hammock time, until a passing shower curtailed that, dinner on deck, then an early night to catch up on all that missed sleep.

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